Returning to Love City Post-Irma: Part Two

Upon arriving to St. John nine months after Hurricane Irma I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. The same warm, salt-water air surrounded us as we stepped off the plane in St. Thomas, but I braced myself for a visit unlike past trips to the USVIs. I had read that the foliage was sparse, several buildings were badly damaged, and some restaurants and shops had not yet reopened.

Riding in a taxi pointed toward Red Hook on St. Thomas, my sister, brother-in-law, Chris, and I listened to our driver’s account of how the storm impacted the islands and his family. Our views out the van windows and then on the passenger ferry to Cruz Bay verified the condition of the island – roofless buildings here and there and pockets of other wreckage, but for every time I spotted a tarp-covered house or an abandoned boat washed up onto shore, I also encountered signs of resilience and beginning anew. Trees with fresh leaves sprouting, healthy animals making their way across the road, or jewel-toned waters taking my breath away.

Some spots on the island were hard to see. Out of respect for people’s privacy I didn’t photograph any of the damaged houses, but we did see a few homes that were missing roofs or even walls. And while Mother Nature is well on her way to regenerating the lush green tropical foliage we are used to seeing, the hillsides from afar did look quite brown in a lot of areas.

That said, the island still felt as magical as always. One of the main reasons we love St. John is for the island’s vibe and atmosphere, and that has not changed. Everyone we encountered treated us with the usual warm welcome and kindness. Literal signs of love for the island could be found around every bend in the road. And the views of the water? Still jaw-droppingly gorgeous.

Eager to show my sister and brother-in-law some of the best parts of the island, we took in as many beach days as we could, starting with a morning on Hawksnest. Nothing made me happier than to see that clear blue water looking as mesmerizing as ever.

Out of concern for a lack of shade on the beach due to less foliage, we purchased a Neso Tent prior to the trip and it turned out to be a really fantastic item to have! Somehow I managed to miss taking a photo of our own tent, but the two tent images below are courtesy of the Neso website. And it’s the exact same color we purchased. I think the teal blends in with the sky nicely.

The tent works by filling a sandbag pouch in each corner after pulling the tent into an x-shape. Once the anchors are situated, you simply prop the poles up inside. It did take a bit of trial and error to figure out how to position the tent against the wind, but once we got the hang of how to anchor it it worked perfectly! (The trick was to heavily fill and then bury the anchors.)

We squeezed the four of us with beach chairs underneath the regular size, but it’s probably better to buy the Neso Tent Grande for more than two people. The tent packs up into a small bag that fits easily into a suitcase or a carry-on, and it’s TSA-compliant since the poles don’t have sharp ends. People frequently complimented our genius set-up and wanted to know more about it. Bonus: the Neso Tent is much easier to carry than an umbrella, and there’s no chance of it flying away and impaling someone. I’m not sponsored by Neso – I just really like their product and highly recommend this shade solution!

images courtesy of

Our next beach day took us to Maho Bay, famous for its turtle-sightings. We were treated to swimming with not only one or two turtles, but we spotted somewhere around ten or more! I was completely blissed-out on quality time with sweet testudines. And again…that gorgeous water.

Any fan of the island knows that no visit to St. John is complete without at least a little time spent at Trunk Bay. We experienced a cloudy sky that day, but happily propped up our tent anyway and went snorkeling along the underwater trail and beyond. The coral right around the trail looked slightly damaged from the storms and some of the trail signage was missing, but further out the coral appeared quite healthy and we saw tons of sealife. I even managed to get a photo of a flamingo tongue snail.

Sadly, one of my favorite beaches, Cinnamon Bay, did not fare well during the storm. The campgrounds and the surrounding area took a huge hit, and this area is still closed due to the damage. I knew going into this trip that Cinnamon had not been restored, but my heart sunk at the extent of the damage. Thankfully there are plenty of other wonderful beaches to explore, and actually, Cinnamon seemed like a fine spot to sit if you need some absolute peace and quiet (see Exhibit A below: photo of a couple and a shade-seeking chicken under an umbrella on the beach at Cinnamon).

If my favorite thing about St. John is the overall mood, and my second favorite thing is the beaches…my very next favorite thing is the food. Despite having so many favorite restaurants on St. John, we managed to try several new ones as well and I could not have been more excited to have so many great choices.

We had a delicious Mexican food lunch at the newly-opened Greengos, complete with margaritas the size of our heads.

Another new-to-the-island favorite, Lucky Chops, was the perfect spot for Asian small plates in a cozy atmosphere.

We spotted new (to us) signage at Colombo’s Smoothies, but enjoyed the same rum-optional (always rum!) smoothies with a view as usual.

The night that the four of us planned to eat at The Longboard a temporary power outage sent us down the street to an old favorite instead, The Lime Inn, but Chris and I returned to The Longboard another night for drinks and appetizers. Try the Caribbean Summer Rolls!

Lastly, a picture of the four of us (finally!) at our favorite restaurant of the week, Indigo Grill. Here we enjoyed live music, a widely-varied menu, and some of the best mango margaritas I’ve ever had.

I’m so very glad we decided to keep our original plans and continue with our trip to St. John after the hurricane. We had an amazing time and came back to the States happy and fully rested. I hope this info helps someone to make the same choice to book a trip. The island is definitely ready to welcome guests and your tourism dollars will help boost their economy. Go for the friendly locals, the delicious food, and of course the beautiful views of spectacular beaches. It’s all still there!

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  • Barbara - Just spent 10 days on the island and loved every second of our visit. ReplyCancel

    • Susan - So glad to hear it, Barbara! It’s hard to leave the island, isn’t it?! I wish I was there now.

  • ellen hammer - Thank you Susan for your beautiful pictures.   When were you back on island?  Ellen, from Bay Rum BreezeReplyCancel

    • Susan - Hi Ellen! So fun to hear from you, and thank you for the kind words about my photos! Chris and I were on St. John in early June. Hope you’re doing well! We remember gorgeous Bay Rum Breeze so fondly and hope to stay there again sometime.

  • Jill - We did our annual trip to St. John six months after Irma and it was by far the best trip ever there. There was something magical in the air and I’m so thankful we decided to go back so soon after Irma.ReplyCancel

    • Susan - Yes! I know what you mean about the magic, Jill! So glad you were able to do your annual trip.